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Marin Community Foundation unveils shift in grant approach

June 10, 2024

By RICHARD HALSTEAD | rhalstead@marinij.com | Marin Independent Journal

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Logo for North Marin Community Services

Introducing a change in strategy, the Marin Community Foundation will spend $30 million over the next three years to support 80 organizations.

“It’s an explicit way for MCF to relinquish some of its power to those doing the hard work in (the) community,” said Rhea Suh, who became the foundation’s president and chief executive officer in 2021.

“These are the groups that embody and represent the power of community and the ability of community itself to care for, uplift and transform,” Suh said.

MCF is calling the program its “Community Power Initiative.” It is a significant shift because the foundation has for years focused its grants on addressing certain areas of need such as education, health, environment and economic opportunity. Grantees were typically required to reapply each year and were expected to deliver on specific commitments made in their proposals.

Over the initial three-year cycle of the initiative, six organizations will receive more than $1 million. Canal Alliance will receive $3 million; the Marin Child Care Council, $2 million; 10,000 Degrees, $1.9 million; Homeward Bound of Marin, $1.8 million; North Marin Community Services, $1.2 million; and Ritter Center, just over $1 million.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important this type of dedicated funding is to a nonprofit,” said Cheryl Paddack, chief executive officer of North Marin Community Services. “A three-year grant allows us to effectively plan, be innovative and evolve with the changing needs of our community, and put our energy towards making a greater impact.”

The initiative is also designed to support some smaller and newer organizations.

“This multi-year grant from MCF is a game-changer for Play Marin,” said Paul Austin, founder and chief executive officer of Play Marin. “While we have deep roots in Marin City, this grant allows us to continue expanding our reach and empower even more children across the county to develop essential skills, build friendships across all backgrounds, and gain confidence that will forever be imbedded within.”

Play Marin will receive $150,000 over three years.

In addition, the initiative includes support for nine collaboratives, two of which are new. One of those is a partnership between the Marin County Department of Cultural Services, Youth in Arts and the Marin County Office of Education that seeks to expand equitable access to art education for Marin’s transitional kindergarten through fifth-grade students. It will receive $375,000 over three years.

The Marin Community Foundation has $3 billion in assets, and $1 billion of that is the product of the original Beryl Buck endowment. The foundation was created in 1987 following a legal battle over control of a $435 million charitable fund that grew from a bequest by Buck, who lived in Ross.

The ensuing legal settlement mandated that the foundation distribute about 5% of the Buck Trust assets to Marin County organizations annually based on a five-year rolling average. So far during the fiscal year that ends July 1, the foundation has distributed $31 million in grants from the Buck Fund.

The foundation’s other $2 billion in assets are “donor-advised funds.” In addition to managing the Buck Trust assets, the foundation administers charitable funds for about 552 individuals and families. These giving accounts are known as donor-advised funds because the donors consult with the foundation on how their money should be spent. So far this year, the foundation has distributed $228 million in grants from its donor-advised funds, and $44 million of that has gone to Marin organizations.

With the switch to providing multiyear, general operating grants, the foundation has executed a sort of strategic double-reverse.

Up until 2006, the foundation had been allocating about 70% of its yearly Buck Trust grants to help cover the operating costs of local nonprofits. In 2006, however, MCF announced it would begin using half of its Buck Trust grant money to foster bold, new initiatives.

At the time, the foundation’s chief executive officer, Thomas Peters, said the change reflected a national trend in philanthropy toward supporting efforts that had “clearly identified goals and some measurable impacts.”

“What donors are looking for, what we’re looking for as a foundation, is impact,” Peters said.

Gary Giacomini, a former Marin County supervisor who was heading the foundation’s board of directors at the time, strongly supported the change and said the county had developed an excessive number of nonprofits that sometimes provided duplicative services.

Canal Alliance, which received the largest Community Power Initiative grant, announced recently that its 112-member staff was going to begin working a four-day work week with no cut in pay. Canal Alliance saw its gifts, grants and contributions increase from $5.4 million in 2018 to $14.5 million in 2022.

ExtraFood.org, which will receive $150,000 from the foundation over the next three years, switched to a four-day work week in 2022.

“I’m not going to comment on the work-based policies of organizations,” Suh said regarding the organizations’ switch to a 32-hour work week.

“I want to underscore,” Suh said, “that the whole point of the Community Power Initiative is that we have faith in the leadership of these organizations and the boards that exist in these organizations to make the right decision, not only for their organizations, but the right decision with respect to the strategies that they’re deploying for the communities they serve.”

The foundation received 209 responses to its request for proposals seeking more than $47 million in grants, so not every organization was fortunate enough to receive funding, and some organizations saw the size of their funding diminish.

“For Marin Center for Independent Living, this is an increase in funding ,” said Eli Gelardin, the center’s executive director. “It will go towards expanding our work in the space of health equity and advancing access to care and resources for people with disabilities of all ages.”

The Marin Center for Independent Living will receive $450,000 over three years.

The Marin Child Care Council received the second largest grant in this round, but it is still less than what it had been receiving from the foundation. Over the past eight years, the organization has received about $1.3 million annually from MCF.

“We were very fortunate that for the past eight years that child care was one of their priorities,” said Aideen Gaidmore, director of the Marin Child Care Council. “I’m just grateful that they’re continuing to fund us for the next three years.”

One organization not so fortunate was the Marin County chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a collaboration of community agencies that fosters service delivery to those affected by disasters in Marin County.

Stephanie McNally, who serves on the executive committee, said the organization applied for a grant but did not receive funding even though it is running out of money this month.

“I think the Marin Community Foundation felt like the VOAD should be supported by Marin County’s Office of Emergency Services,” McNally said.

Marin County Executive Derek Johnson said, “We will be eagerly watching the impact of the Community Power Initiative as part of our longstanding partnership with MCF, leveraging resources to address our community’s most pressing needs.”

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